I am a law breaker. I speed. I don’t make complete stops at stop signs. I have taken calls on my cell phone while driving. On occasion, when I have waited at a red light long enough, and no one is around, I will run a red light. Maybe these things make me a monster. Some of you may never do these things. Those of you who are rule followers may be thinking “I hope you pay.” The truth is I will. Someday I will get caught and I will get a ticket. I will get a fine and my insurance will increase or I will have to go to traffic school. If I get caught, and I hope I don’t, I am willing to pay the price. It is a risk vs. reward decision and I know that every time I get behind the wheel.
That’s just driving.
There are thousands of other areas we can break the law. You can cheat on taxes, jay walk, litter, pirate music or movies, drink or smoke under age, the list goes on and on. If we are honest with ourselves, all of us have broken the law at some point. When I break the law, it is normally for selfish reasons. I don’t want to be late, I am keeping up with traffic, I don’t want to be inconvenienced. However, for some, it isn’t for selfish reasons, it is for the benefit of others.
Rosa Parks, an African American woman, refused to give up her seat on the bus in Montgomery Alabama in 1955. She was arrested, yet stood against racist treatment and sparked a movement. She was fired from her job and received death threats for years but is revered for her courage and is considered by many the ‘mother of the freedom movement.’
Any time people stand against systems they believe are unjust, they confront something bigger than themselves and generally pay a steep price. There are many instances of people who have made this choice and many of those people we revere. Maybe it is a matter of personal conscience, common decency, or religious conviction, in any case, people step into a gap fraught with pain and do what they believe is right. The rest of us stand by, watching from a safe distance and pass judgments on their behavior.
Scott Warren of Tucson is attempting to be one of those people. He was charged with a felony for aiding illegal immigrants in the Arizona/Mexican desert. He provided food, water and shelter to some who were seeking to make the dangerous trek across the border in the Arizona desert. A court case recently ended in a hung jury sparking controversy and statements from both sides of the debate.
Some say justice has been served, Warren was only trying to do the right and decent thing. In his articlein USA Today, Brian Mclaren sees this as an example of someone attempting to live out their faith. He uses a fictitious court case where a central tenant of Christianity is on trial; namely “Go and do likewise.” When a core of faith is on trial, much is at stake. Will Christians be free to practice their faith? Will ‘doing likewise’ mean arrest? Further, Mclaren sees this issue as a dividing point between Christians. He rightly points out how many Christians argue that helping illegal immigrants is breaking the law. They feel strongly about taking care of America and those who are legally in the United States as a priority. Breaking the law to help law-breakers doesn’t make sense and threatens the God-given fabric of our country.
Others point to the Scriptures and Christ’s words to love our enemies or offer aid to those in need as the proper way for not only Christians, but decent people to behave.
The United States isn’t the only country facing issues with immigration. Many countries in Europe are grappling with how to manage the influx of immigrants from war torn countries in the Middle East or North Africa. Italy recently filed charges against Pia Klemp, a German boat captain who has rescued over 1000 people in the Mediterranean Sea. Again, people on both sides claim the moral high ground when arguing their cause.
These are intensely charged issues and emotions run high, divisions are deep. Whether Christian or not, there is no easy answer to the issue of immigration, especially as it reaches global scale. What used to be a regional issue, now takes on world sized proportions as economies, policies, information and culture is shared easily through the internet and other media. The relative ease of travel allows people to move several hundred miles in a day, possibly moving through more than one country on any given journey, long before any thoughtful policies are in place. These are the policies that are on trial.
The law affords people the opportunity, not the right, to enter our country. No one has a ‘right’ to live here unless they were born here or their parents are citizens. That is true for every country around the world, not just the United States. Laws help us define how was can live together and with our neighbors. They are important and have to be honored. Without them we have anarchy, a state in which no one but the ‘strong’ want to live.
What do we do when we don’t agree with the Law? What are we to do when our Laws are unjust or don’t reflect how we feel they should work? In the United States, we can pass new ones. Our elected officials are there to listen to us, take our concerns before the other representatives and come to agreements about what needs to be done. In the meantime, people wait, sometimes in deplorable conditions. Of course, we should vote to pass laws we agree with, but with our system behavior more like the Imperial Senate from Star Wars, isn’t there something else we can do? What do we do when acting as we believe Jesus would have us act (Go and do likewise) means we break the Law?
Rosa Parks knew what to do. The answer is non-violent Civil Disobedience.
Christians have a long history of civil disobedience. From the outset, Christianity and the Law have come into conflict. The first Christians broke Jewish Law in order to observe their faith. Rome made it illegal to be a Christian by insisting on Emperor worship. To be a Christian means to be willing to answer to Christ and the governing authorities about our behavior. Jesus even predicted this when he sent out his followers in Matthew 10.
“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 17 Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. 18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”
Living with Christ means a willingness to call authorities to account. It means pointing them to another Authority. We must stand in the gaping hole we have in our culture telling Kings and enemies the truth. The love and compassion of Jesus Christ is the only way Christians are called to engage those around us, illegal or not. Jesus never said, ‘Judge your enemy.’ Jesus told us to love them and pray for them. That means Christians, immigrants, democrat or republicans. No one gets a pass when it comes to Christ’s love.
While I can’t see all the issues, and some of you reading this will undoubtedly help ‘educate’ me in areas you are passionate about, helping people in need is a Christian virtue, and arguable the central virtue on displayed in story of the Good Samaritan.
Luke 10:25-37 New International Version (NIV)
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denariiand gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
If Christians decided to “Go and do likewise” more often, more of us would get arrested. More of us would break laws we find insufficient for our time and place. More of us would stand for the thirsty, the hungry and those in need. I’m not talking speeding here and I’m not talking about running through a stop-sign. I am talking about calling forth the Kingdom of God in our Holy Spirit infused loving actions toward those in need. Standing for the Kingdom Jesus called forth, every time he healed, every time he routed demonic forces, and forgave those who charged him with blasphemy, will cost us something. Some may sneer, even your fellow Christians but maybe it’s time we paid the inn keeper on behalf of those who aren’t like us. Maybe it’s time for more of us to break the law in Christ’s name.